The shrimp and corn gyoza I ordered recently at Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings & Sweets were exceptional, the shrimp in the filling chopped into pieces large enough that you could appreciate their snappy texture as well as their briny-sweet flavor.
But this was not the dish I was expecting when I ordered it. Instead of being served with the “citrus ponzu sauce” described on the menu –presumably a traditional dipping sauce – the gyoza arrived floating in a fragrant broth riddled with king trumpet mushrooms and tender, emerald green chrysanthemum leaves. Was I disappointed? Not even a little bit.
Turns out even leftovers are first-rate at Rose’s. When I asked owner/chef Justin Meddis about the substitution, he explained that he had a surplus of gyoza from a previous meal service. Rather than throw them out (anathema to any socially responsible chef), he created a pork-ponzu broth that would complement the gyoza and prevent them from drying out.
It’s this kind of food cost-consciousness that earns my vote for Rose’s as the best bang for your food buck in the Triangle. Scratch-made dumplings, salads and some of the best sandwiches around all top out at $10. A rotating selection of entrees – a short but varied list, mostly noodle dishes and hearty stews – will set you back less than $15.
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It doesn’t hurt that Meddis and his wife and partner, pastry chef Katie Meddis, have bucketloads of talent and star-studded resumes that include work in the legendary Chez Panisse in California and nationally acclaimed Magnolias in Charleston, S.C.
The couple opened Rose’s Meat Market & Sweet Shop in 2013 and converted the shop to a restaurant last summer, with a corresponding name change.
Justin Meddis discontinued the butcher shop that was his half of the operation, but his skills are still abundantly evident in the meats – pork in particular – that are frequently featured on sandwiches. Roasted pork – local, pasture-raised and butchered in house – with sautéed mustard greens, a fried egg and Korean gochujang chile sauce between thick slices of house-baked sourdough, is a prime example.
Other sandwiches that have turned up so far on Rose’s Asian-inflected menu include housemade five-spice sausage, banh mi with paté and Thai sausage, and roast beef with bibb lettuce, sweet mayo and plum sauce. Katsu Sando, which piles Japanese-style panko-crusted pork cutlets, shredded cabbage and tonkatsu sauce between slices of light, subtly sweet milk bread, has been so popular that it has earned a more or less permanent spot in the rotation.
Sandwiches are by no means the only part of the menu that benefit from Meddis’ whole-animal butchery skills.
Under the Appetizer heading, you might find a spicy beef tendon salad with radishes, peanuts, mint and scallions; a steamed bun crammed with curry pork so tasty you’ll be forgiven if you dip sparingly in the accompanying chile oil; or pork and squash dumplings floating in a spicy garlic broth.
You can generally count on a ramen variation among the three options listed under the Plates heading – recently pork jowl, cabbage and a soy-marinated egg in a soul-satisfying burnt miso broth. There’s also a house made Shan-Xi noodle dish – two variations, actually, one pairing the broad, very long wheat noodles (their Chinese name means “belt”) with an animal protein such as stir-fried pork belly or braised monkfish, and the other a vegetarian alternative.
The third entree is a wild card – Hainan chicken and rice, or Okinawa-style pork ribs with giant radishes, sweet onions and black sugar served over rice, or the superb sweet-and-sour dogfish stew I scored recently.
Then there’s dessert. If ever there was a grownup version of “a kid in a candy shop,” it’s the feeling you’ll get when you’re looking at the display of Katie Meddis’ pastries. With dozens of sweet temptations from dainty macarons in pastel hues to rustic apple, sour cherry and frangipane hand pies to utterly decadent chocolate-dipped cream puffs, the only way you can go wrong is to skip dessert. Order something – better still, two or three somethings – even if you have to get them to-go and eat them later.
OK, I hear you saying, what’s the catch? There has to be one for food this good and this inexpensive, right?
I’m afraid there is, and it’s a double whammy of a tiny space and limited hours. The dining room barely seats two dozen people at a pinch, all at counters and high-top tables. Rose’s doesn’t take reservations, and the wait for a table can be an hour or more. The crush is typically worst between the hours of 11 a.m. and noon, when the breakfast and lunch/dinner menus are both available. (If you get there in time for breakfast, don’t miss the Hanoi-style pho, served with yo tiao fried bread.)
Oh, and did I mention parking? There are just a handful of spaces in the lot, and you may well find yourself parking a couple of blocks away.
But believe me, it’s worth it. Come to think of it, I’d even walk a couple of miles for a meal at Rose’s. That way, I’d burn off enough calories to treat myself to an extra dessert.
121 N. Gregson St., Durham
Cuisine: Asian-inspired contemporary, desserts
Atmosphere: casual, compact, utilitarian
Noise level: moderate to high
Service: friendly and attentive
Recommended: follow your whim, you can’t go wrong
Open:Wednesday-Friday 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. (kitchen closes at 5 p.m.); Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Breakfast menu available until noon.
Reservations: not accepted
Other: beer and wine; accommodates children; limited vegetarian selection; limited parking in lot, see website for other parking options.
The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: ☆☆☆☆☆ Extraordinary ☆☆☆☆ Excellent. ☆☆☆ Above average. ☆☆Average. ☆ Fair.
The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $16. $$$ Entrees $17 to $25. $$$$ Entrees more than $25.